We are in Lyon, France, on February 9, 2005. I’m sitting in a fairly comfortable armchair facing my medical doctor, Dr Garnier. This meeting wasn’t planned before the end of the week. At that time I had been waiting for two days for my HIV test. Dr Garnier looks at me, his eyes softened by the news that he has to give me “Mr Berthelet, your HIV tests are positive. You have to go to the Croix-Rousse hospital as soon as possible, and see the professor Chidiac at the tropical and infectious diseases service where he’ll take charge of you and explain, as clearly as possible, the situation in which you are now”.
What! I have AIDS !? Without questioning for one second the validity of this statement now reasonating within my consciousness, I take my mobile phone to call the woman who is today my wife. At that time she is in Tunisia for business. I quickly tell her these news which, to this day, rattle the course of our existence. I organise for her to return here under medical emergency, so she can begin as quickly as possible with the medical tests. I then take the road to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, where I arrive like a zombie at around one in the morning. We drive back to Lyon immediately, lost in the morbid anxiety that she might also be contaminated… by me. Lost but happy, together. The next morning, after waiting for harrowing hours, the verdict comes in : Hélène is negative. I shall not be her murderer.
The ensuing events can by summarised thus – stays at gruesome hospital facilities, patients’ faces that are downtrodden and mutilated, deformed bodies, stressful silence… many blood analyses… and their results : Positive against two ELISA test, positive against two Western Blot tests, tests showing a worrying CD4 T cell count of 256, a viral load of 116 000 and oropharyngeal candidiasis – the existence of which all the hospital services try not to see. For the Lyon medical establishment, candidiasis is an opportunistic infection and not the cause of the positive tests.
According to Prof Chidiac, I’m near the end of my life, my health is a big concern, and I have to take up Trizivir as soon as possible ! On the one hand he advises me firmly not to read the coutraindications sspecified by the manufacturers of the product, nor read the list of adverse secondary effects, nor bring any attention to the crazy literature circulating on the Internet, and especially not to listen to miracle cure sellers! On the other hand, he invites me to sign a document in which I authorise him to transmit my medical file to unidentified third parties! After the grotesque, the fishy stuff. He insists and concludes on the fact that I have AIDS. To not follow his recommendations means I’ll be dead within six months.
Hélène and I leave the room stunned by this admonition, alone before this pronouncement of impending death that we neither planned for nor even foresaw. Two young people in love, lying broken in the corridor of death leading to the doors of this Lyonnais specialist of infectious deseases ! A sinkhole for our psyche, and a breakdown of everything.
Courage ! She is there, and she’ll always be there with her caresses, her come-ons, listening, smiling. She loves me, I love her. Never mind what happens, we are happy. The announcement of my health situation to close friends and relatives confirms the importance of beautiful encounters.
Act! Get information! Learn! Analyse! What should have been a straightforward therapeutic course finds itself fast turning into an exciting quest. Hélène shows the greatest courage and determination in dealing with this ordeal. She feeds me in every way, me, the carrier of this fatal virus which will probably prevent us from having a family… It’s a new expérience fanning out to this nice spring evening where Hélène gives me a book co-written by Jean-Claude Roussez and Etienne de Harven, the latter a well known anathomopathologist and electron microscope specialist, telling all that will listen that the causal link between HIV and AIDS is being strongly questionned by an ever growing group of international scientists.
This book filled with hope carries me into the small hours of the morning. I then connect to the web in order to check for myself the contents of the documents in the reference section of this book. What I find is mind-boggling. The greatest scientific experts have been, for twenty years, warning the population about the lack of credibility of HIV tests, their non-specificity and the minor rôle of HIV in the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
After many hours of research, using free time generously given to me by my employers, I finally decide to kill this image of my death inevitably linked to AIDS. My meeting with Prof. Etienne de Harven is highly instructive. Among many bits of information, Etienne de Harven tells us that the inventor of the technique used to count these famous CD4 cells, the professor Kary Mullis, 1993 Nobel Prize winner for the PCR technique, himself declares since 1996 that his technique in no way enables a diagnostic for HIV-1, HIV-2 and Hepatitis C! The whole AIDS story could be wrong… AIDS might in fact not be contagious, nor sexually transmissible.. and HIV might not be the cause of AIDS.
Hélène’s and my deeply seated convictions turn out to be true! I am not sick from AIDS and I’m not harboring any nasty virus attacking my immune system. I have a condition of oropharyngeal candidiasis, and that’s bad enough! I’m one more false positive on the list… I just have the disagreeable particularity of wanting to fight the ignorance of the public health services staff, which wants me to be an AIDS patient and in no way a patient in the developing phase of candidiasis. I am forced, to look after my health and simply in order to obtain freedom of choice in my therapy, to call upon our Constitutional Rights, article 3 of the 1948 declaration of Human Rights – Any individual has a right to life, to freedom and to personnal security.
I came very close to footing the bill for a medical interpretation error by the Lyon health service. This kind of mistake in reading ELISA, Western Blot and PCR tests is still going on today and produces a procession of hardship for men, women and children chemically treated for ailments, the supposed but unverified cause of which is called AIDS.
I managed to get out of this story fine, without inappropriate treatment. I cured my candidiasis and am now in full shape, beside my wife, with whom I now spend a good part of my time informing people of what is and will remain a morbid medical error swiped under the rug.